Edinburgh Tram on test run in Leith Walk, seen from a tenement window above

Edinburgh trams make historic move

Edinburgh Tram on a test run in Leith Walk, seen from a tenement window aboveEdinburgh Trams media resource

Edinburgh Trams have made history for the right reasons, for once. A test run saw the first guided rail vehicle to traverse Leith Walk in 66 years. History was made on Monday night (13 March), when the first tram in seven decades ran down the 2.4-kilometre city boulevard. The test run came as the “Trams to Newhaven” project nears completion. The route opens for service later in Spring, after a period of testing and commissioning, to ensure the newly constructed line, software and signals work effectively and safely, and probably make sure the rails the right distance apart.

Scotland’s capital city has seen much controversy over the reintroduction of tram services. However, the acrimony over costs and disruption to the streets of Edinburgh was put aside last week, as the first stage of testing began, sending a ceremonial tram “Down the Walk” for the first time since 1956, when the former system closed.

State-of-the-art simulator

Although the present day single route is a shadow of the extensive twentieth-century system, Edinburgh’s modern tram service has taken a symbolic step forward – albeit at walking pace. A first tram has traversed the extension of the airport to city centre route, which is being commissioned to connect the Port of Leith and the former fishing village of Newhaven to the service.

Once the first stage is completed, the frequency and speed of tram testing will increase, and trams will start running to a timetable, although no passengers will be carried just yet. Drivers on the route have been training in the lead-up to testing, using a state-of-the-art simulator. The operators are encouraging citizens to take care and be aware of the presence of trams on the street running sections, which carry the majority of the route.

Mired in controversy for many years

“This is a huge milestone for Trams to Newhaven” said Councillor Scott Arthur, the transport and environment convener for the local authority (City of Edinburgh Council). “That the project is set to be delivered on time and within budget, despite the challenges of recent years, is testament to the hard work of all those involved.
Bringing the tram to Newhaven will be transformative for the area, and the wider city, as well as boosting the economy and providing sustainable, high-capacity public transport to this densely populated part of Edinburgh.”

Diagram of Edinburgh Tram Network - one line from the airport to Newhaven
Diagram of Edinburgh Tram Network. Not much of a network, but it’s a start.

The whole project has been mired in controversy for many years. The original company formed to build the tram network was dissolved amid acrimony over arguments with contractors, delays and huge cost overruns. An equally controversial public enquiry is still underway. Original plans were for a three line network. The current single route is approximately half of a circular route which would have been the backbone of that system. Ironically, an optimistic purchase of sufficient rolling stock for the entire system has left a legacy of an underused fleet.

Intense period of familiarisation

However, the councillor was in a good mood at seeing the trial runs commence. “To see one of our trams running along Leith Walk was a proud moment for us”, he said. “This latest milestone in the project will enable us to step up our own preparations for the launch of passenger services to Newhaven. This includes real-world driver training on the new section of line following an intense period of familiarisation involving our simulator.”

Head on shot of a tram approaching on a test run in Leith Walk Edinburgh
This Edinburgh Tram is for … Newhaven, but it’ll take a few months to get there

The Trams to Newhaven project remains on schedule for completion by Spring of this year. The promoters say it is within the 207.3million pound budget (240.5 million euro). “All major construction [is] now complete”, say Edinburgh Trams. “A specific date for when the route will be open for passengers will be announced in due course.
As part of the commissioning process, every aspect of the new infrastructure will be thoroughly tested to ensure it meets the required safety standards.” One assumes that also means making sure the rails are the right distance apart.

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Author: Simon Walton

Simon Walton is UK correspondent for RailTech.com and Railfreight.com

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